The Benefits of N-Acetylglucosamine

Can this supplement benefit your skin and health?

Mature woman looking in mirror
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N-acetylglucosamine (also known as N-acetyl glucosamine) is a type of sugar available in dietary supplement form. Chemically similar to glucosamine, N-acetylglucosamine occurs naturally in the outer shells of certain insects and shellfish. Proponents claim that taking N-acetylglucosamine in supplement form can help a number of health conditions.

Why Do People Use N-Acetylglucosamine?

N-acetyl glucosamine is touted as a remedy for osteoarthritis, Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis, anxiety, interstitial cystitis, and ulcerative colitis.

In addition, N-acetylglucosamine is purported to have a lightening or whitening effect when applied directly to the skin. There's some evidence that N-acetylglucosamine can help block the production of melanin, a natural compound that gives color to your skin.

The Benefits of N-Acetylglucosamine: Can It Help?

So far, very few scientific studies have tested the health effects of supplements containing N-acetylglucosamine. But while clinical trials are currently lacking, some preliminary research suggests that N-acetylglucosamine may offer certain health benefits. Here's look at several key findings from the available studies:

1) Osteoarthritis

N-acetyl glucosamine may help reduce the inflammation associated with osteoarthritis, suggests a preliminary study published in Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases in 2005. In tests on rabbits, scientists determined that N-acetylglucosamine helped alleviate arthritis-related inflammation and inhibit the breakdown of cartilage.

2) Inflammatory Bowel Disease

N-acetylglucosamine shows promise in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease (a class of conditions that includes Crohn's disease and colitis), according to a pilot study published in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics in 2000. In tests on 10 children with severe Crohn's disease and two children with severe ulcerative colitis, researchers found that daily treatment with N-acetylglucosamine led to a significant improvement in symptoms and a decrease in inflammation.

3) Multiple Sclerosis

A 2011 study from the Journal of Biological Chemistry indicates that N-acetylglucosamine may help suppress the destructive autoimmune response involved in multiple sclerosis. In tests on mice, researchers demonstrated that N-acetylglucosamine may help inhibit the growth and function of abnormal cells that -- in multiple sclerosis patients -- prompt the immune system to break down central nervous system tissue involved in insulating nerves.

4) Skin Lightening

N-acetyl glucosamine may help promote lightening of the skin when used as an ingredient in skincare products, according to a 2007 study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology.

In an eight-week-long clinical trial, the study's authors found that use of N-acetyl glucosamine helped reduce abnormal darkening of the skin. The study also found that N-acetyl glucosamine may be especially effective for skin-whitening when used in combination with niacinamide (a form of vitamin B sometimes used in skincare products).

Possible Side Effects

Due to a lack of research, little is known about the safety of long-term use of supplements containing N-acetylglucosamine. However, N-acetylglucosamine may cause certain adverse effects (such as itching, wheezing, and rashes) in people who are allergic to shellfish.

There's also some concern that N-acetylglucosamine may be harmful to people with asthma. For instance, consumption of N-acetylglucosamine may aggravate asthma symptoms and possibly trigger asthma attacks.

Supplements haven't been tested for safety and due to the fact that dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label. Also keep in mind that the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. You can get additional tips on using supplements here, but keep in mind that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

Where To Find It

Widely available for purchase online, supplements containing N-acetylglucosamine are sold in many natural-foods stores, drugstores, and stores specializing in dietary supplements.

The Bottom Line

Due to the limited research, it's too soon to recommend N-acetylglucosamine as a treatment for any condition. If you're considering using it, talk to your doctor to weigh the potential risks and benefits. 

Sources:

Bissett DL, Robinson LR, Raleigh PS, Miyamoto K, Hakozaki T, Li J, Kelm GR. Reduction in the appearance of facial hyperpigmentation by topical N-acetyl glucosamine. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2007 Mar;6(1):20-6.

Grigorian A, Araujo L, Naidu NN, Place DJ, Choudhury B, Demetriou M. N-acetylglucosamine inhibits T-helper 1 (Th1)/T-helper 17 (Th17) cell responses and treats experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis. J Biol Chem. 2011 Nov 18;286(46):40133-41.

Salvatore S, Heuschkel R, Tomlin S, et al. A pilot study of N-acetyl glucosamine, a nutritional substrate for glycosaminoglycan synthesis, in paediatric chronic inflammatory bowel disease" Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2000 Dec;14(12):1567-79.

Shikhman AR, Amiel D, D'Lima D, et al. Chondroprotective activity of N-acetylglucosamine in rabbits with experimental osteoarthritis. Ann Rheum Dis. 2005 Jan;64(1):89-94.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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